Geo Week News

October 31, 2012

How lidar can help in the Sandy clean-up

There is a big job in front of those who have to clean up after hurricane Sandy. The damage is massive and continuing as flood waters recede to reveal just how powerful mother nature can be. I can barely imagine what the people of New York and New Jersey, especially, are going through. It sounds trite to even say, but it was just a couple months back that I was enjoying a concert on an old Atlantic City airfield that is now completely underwater and walking a boardwalk that is now almost completely washed away.

Of course, it’s my job to look at the world’s news through a 3D data lens, and it’s unquestionable that lidar, both mobile and airborne, have a real role to play in the clean up, as do the many other forms of 3D data capture.

Certainly, it’s good news that as recently as 2010 NYC got a full airborne lidar treatment. Ostensibly, it was so solar maps could be created as part of a city-wide environmental push, but that data can no doubt help establish where the water is most likely to flow and which areas of the city will be underwater the longest. Already, in March of 2010, New York State agencies were talking about how best to use lidar and other elevation data, and the tracking of storm surges was one of the mentioned uses. It’s interesting to note, though, that the Department of Environmental Conservation mentioned that “LiDAR itself is not enough for drainage analysis – must enforce the hydrography and carve it into the DEM,” but they’re also using lidar for “Dam emergency management, state forest management (using LiDAR with and without vegetation); Impacts of sea level rise; Infrastructure risk with flooding.”

Hopefully, this means the city is already armed with much of the data it needs to respond appropriately to Sandy, and it definitely seems in the initial days after the storm that the city had a good plan of attack for evacuation and response. Yes, the damage has been immense, but there has been relatively little loss of life from such a large storm and its property impact – especially when you consider the number of lives lost in Hurricane Katrina (over 1,800) as a comparison.

Now, as the clean-up commences, perhaps organizers can learn from those who worked in New Orleans after Katrina and in Japan after the 2011 tsunami. You can see a summary of the post-Katrina lidar work here and we recounted some of the lessons learned in Japan by the USGS, who presented at SPAR 2012. It’s clear that mobile and terrestrial lidar can make damage assessment safer and provide vital information as the rebuilding begins. Asia Air Survey and StreetMapper provided this very kind of data not long after that March earthquake. Which structures will need to be completely demolished? Which can be spared and rebuilt? 3D data can certainly help with these kinds of decisions.

It may even be that they should laser scan the New York subways for posterity before they’re renovated, as it’s possible some of the infrastructure will have to be gutted in a way that makes them almost unrecognizable, and there are certainly historic engineering feats in those tunnels under the city.

The recovery effort will most certainly be, as we say here in Maine, a tough row to hoe, but here’s hoping that the use of 3D data can make it more efficient and get people back to normal as quickly as possible.

If anyone out there is doing any lidar and laser scanning work in the Sandy-impacted areas, make sure to drop me a line so I can spread the word.

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